March 9, 2018
The birth of a child is a great joy, but unfortunately, it can be testing if the baby is born premature and needs to spend time in hospital.
For employers, it can be tricky too. What happens to the employee’s maternity leave? How should you communicate with the employee during this difficult and testing time? What support should you provide?
In this article, we will explore the law and answer these questions.
What is considered a premature baby?
The NHS defines premature babies as those born before 37 weeks.
What is the current law on leave for premature births?
At present, female employees are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity leave. If a woman gives birth prematurely, maternity leave will commence on the day after the baby is born and unlike in some other countries, leave is not extended. This can mean that by the time the baby is well enough to go home, an employee may have used up many months of maternity leave and loses that valuable time to bond and be with their newborn.
Fathers may be eligible for a week or two of paternity leave, which can be taken within eight weeks of the actual birth or eight weeks of the due date. Those with premature babies will often opt for second option, so they can take time off when the baby is at home.
What have people been campaigning about?
An online petition has been produced by the Smallest Things Campaign, which wants to extend statutory maternity leave in these circumstances. At present, it has nearly 170,000 signatures.
Towards the end of 2016, MP Steve Reed submitted a motion in Parliament to debate possible changes to the law to extend maternity leave for women who give birth early. However, this hasn’t been taken any further.
What can employers do to support employees who have premature babies?
At the start of this year, Waltham Forest Council granted employees the right to an additional seven days of leave for every week that the parents of the premature baby has to be spent in hospital before their child is permitted to go home.
But there other ways to support your employees at this difficult time, including:
To explore this further, contact your Employment Law Adviser who can give you guidance and support.
Learn from the experts
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